The following is very loosely based on an Oulipo writing exercise, via my friend Oscar, in anticipation of my hitting the Open Mic on Monday with something new for the first time in a couple years. “Very loosely” meaning I went with the general concept of the exercise he gave me and rolled with it as the “poem” wrote itself. The end result is actually kind of Oulipian, I guess, based on Monica de la Torre’s definition: “Every word that you jot down brings to mind an onslaught of other words and ideas that lead you further and further away from your original intention.” Hell, that describes most of my writing!

EXERCISE: Write the same poem but with different words. Take Billy Collins’ “Aristotle” poem and substitute his words/images with your words/images. You can change it word for word or line by line but it has to follow his initial pattern.


This is the stage.
Anything can, and usually does
happen here.
This is where you find
the poets, the performers, the prophets
too often, the pretenders.
This is where it begins.
With a clearing of the throat
a shuffling of the page
or the feet
a nervous glance into the audience
the split second of silence before
the poem is born
when it is spoken aloud
for the first time.
It does not live on the page
in solitary confinement
but too often, it dies there.
This is where it lives
where it breathes
where it runs free.

This is the poet.
Practitioner of a forgotten art
proselytizer of dead gods
purveyor of stale goods.
Politicians and celebrities’ words
carry more weight.
So the poet parrots them
packaging poems in popular phrases
and wonders why no one is listening.

This is the poem.
It can be many things
to many people.
It can make demands
loudly, insistently, incessantly
but it cannot change a thing.
It can rhyme
cause fingers to snap
toes to tap
and minds to clear or wander even further away
but it cannot change a thing.
It can profess love
codify it, contextualize it, commodify it,
embellish it, eroticize it, deny it,
but it cannot guarantee it.
This is the poem.
A stone in one hand
a loofah in another,
a dirty bomb, a soothing massage,
a wink, a kiss, a tease.
Medicine, poison, intoxicant.
Truth or fiction.
Too often the poets,
the performers, the prophets,
especially the pretenders,
wield their poems like knives
instead of hands
cutting instead of caressing
slashing instead of stroking
seeking change by force
instead of by example.

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